Loathsome blight union never needed

Loathsome blight union never needed


Look, we’ve just had a fantastic round of Super Rugby. The Highlanders and Blues put on a brilliant show, the Moana-Drua game was spectacularly entertaining.

On the Australian side of things, the Waratahs were magnificent in an upset victory, the Reds were gallant in a desperately close loss to an equally wholehearted Hurricanes side, and the Rebels made a heart-swelling comeback against the Force who were pretty damn impressive for much of the game. And as for the Brumbies – didn’t their uniforms look pretty!

Yes, it was a great weekend for the game of rugby, and a lovely reminder that for all the causes for pessimism, we’ve still got a great sport here that can provide real joy when it hits the spot.

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However, I am a professional pundit, and as such I swore a sacred oath. Therefore I must, at this moment of positive vibes, have a good old-fashioned bitch.

Now, let me say from the outset that rugby union and rugby league have much to teach each other, and the cross-pollination of the codes has produced many good things. Goalkicking in league became much better as a result of rugby contributors, and union teams’ defences have gained much from input from leaguies.

Likewise, without rugby league, rugby union would never have been blessed with the talents of Benji Marshall, and without rugby union, rugby league would never have seen the career of Garrick Morgan; so we can say that both games have collaborated fruitfully in the area of comedy.

Reds look dejected after the loss during the round two Super Rugby Pacific match between Hurricanes and Queensland Reds at AAMI Park, on March 03, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

But there is a possibility that when rugby administrators look at what can be learned from the 13-man game, their approach should be something other than, “Let’s see what the absolute worst thing about rugby league is, and then do that.”

And yet, they seem to have taken this very approach, for I can see no other explanation for the fact that the game between the Reds and the Hurricanes was decided by that most loathsome of methods: “golden point”.

In either code, it would be difficult to find a worse addition to the game without invoking the name of Alan Jones. Golden point is an abomination, a blight on the sporting landscape, a footballing cancer that in the name of all that is good and holy we must do our best to cut out.

And for so long, I thought that, no matter how great the ability of the modern game of rugby union to disappoint me, and no matter how far behind league it seemed to be falling in terms of entertainment, public profile and general inspiration, the once-amateur game would always have one huge advantage over its bolshy offspring: the fact that it did not employ golden point.

But this past weekend was a sickening reminder that nothing good lasts and that there is no idea so bad that rugby officialdom will not implement it.

Cam Roigard of the Hurricanes celebrates scoring a try during the round two Super Rugby Pacific match between Hurricanes and Queensland Reds at AAMI Park, on March 03, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Let us be clear right from the outset: golden point is a solution to a problem that never existed. Extra time has only ever actually been necessary in knockout finals, and in all the long history of rugby good old-fashioned straightforward extra time has always been perfectly sufficient. There has never been a World Cup final that dragged into its third week because of the inability to determine a winner.

In non-knockout games – that is, the vast majority of rugby games that are played – we don’t even need extra time, as long ago some of our most intelligent and creative scientists invented the “draw” – a fascinating innovation by which, when two teams finished a game equal on points, everyone said, “That’s fine” and went home.

A famous coach once said that a draw is “like dancing with your sister”, a phrase that many commentators in many sports have since quoted with approving nods and knowing smiles without acknowledging the fact that it does not mean anything and is extremely stupid.

A draw is nothing at all like dancing with your sister, unless while dancing with your sister, you and your sister play a game to see who can step on each other’s feet the most times, and at the end of the song you’ve both got 15 and you agree you’re equally bad dancers. Which would be a fun game to play with your sister, but not if one of you has unusually heavy feet. But I digress.

The point is, there is nothing wrong with a draw. Draws are good. Draws are exciting. The conflicted emotions you experience after a draw, the mixture of relief and disappointment, the strange discrepancy that always results between fans of one team who feel like they’ve had a lucky escape and the fans of the other who feel like they’ve missed a golden opportunity, despite the fact both had the same result … all of these are a part of the complex, diverse, intoxicating journey that sport lovers take through life. Draws are not to be avoided, they are to be embraced as the rare jewels of novelty that they are.

However, let’s say that for some reason you cannot stand draws: that reason presumably being that you were not hugged enough as a child or have been drinking more than the recommended daily dose of paint. And let’s say that you are in charge of determining the rules of rugby.

If a game is not to finish in a draw – whether that be because it’s a final or just because the administrators are idiots – then there are a variety of solutions to adopt. And golden point is the worst of them all.

Just playing ten minutes of extra time is fine. If scores still level, play another five. And another. I promise you a result will eventuate before the next round is due to be played.

OK, you don’t feel you have the time to endure that. Once again, this means you are stupid, but fine. You want your extra time to maximise entertainment value, so you’re trying to achieve optimum jeopardy and tension. You want everyone on edge, knowing any moment might be the killer blow. You want to create spectacle.

So obviously what you put in place is golden TRY. Because then what you have is two teams desperately searching for a try and playing expansive, attacking rugby in their quest to score one. Rather than playing for penalties or grinding away for field position – while also taking as few risks as possible to avoid giving away field position, as a drop goal will be fatal.

(Yes, I know the Hurricanes won with a golden point try – that’s not the point. The point is golden point does not INCENTIVISE the attempt to score a try).

(Also, if it had been golden try on the weekend, maybe the referee would’ve been willing to award a very obvious penalty to the Reds, rather than keeping his whistle in his pocket due to fear of being the referee who decided the match, not that this is one of those “complain about the ref” articles *cough*ROBBED*cough*)

(Also, also, aside from that above little snipe, I’d write exactly the same article had the Reds scored the decisive point. I want that game to have been a draw).

Golden point is the worst of all possible worlds. It is unnecessary, makes the result of a game more susceptible to random chance than any other, and discourages entertaining play in the extra time period, as well as being fundamentally lopsided as rugby begins with one team kicking off and one team receiving, meaning the golden point period can never be on an equal footing.

Now, I think it is too late to save rugby league from this scourge. The administration is too much in love with manufactured drama, and the commentariat too addicted to declaring every golden point match an ALL-TIME CLASSIC to be brought back from its foolishness any time soon.

But golden point has yet to become a rugby union tradition. I still feel our game can come back from the horror and be a pure, clean, noble sport once more. If we work together, if we make our voices heard, if we send angry letters with lots of rude words in them to rich men in suits…I believe we can throw golden point on the scrapheap of foul excrescences where it belongs.

Then we can truly enjoy great rounds like the last one, free from doubt and care.


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